Hobby enthusiasms

my electric car
We call it the Bubble Car.

In May I bought an electric car, and then I wanted to track how much electricity I was using and whether the range was as good as given in the specs. [1]

I happened to have a blank notebook handy; it even had robots on it. (Thx, Lullabot.) But then I had to type everything into a spreadsheet to learn anything! I guess at least I wasn’t checking it with a calculator and pencil and paper like Mom with her VW van in 1980.

So I decided to make a web app. It’s been forever since I’ve made anything really entirely completely 100% from scratch. I have a blog for my personal site and at work I have a CMS. I’m used to using something else to do the fiddly bits. [2]

I’d already decided that my favorite CMS [3] was probably overkill. After staring at a blank text editor for a bit, I went poking around frameworks. Got annoyed and frustrated and went back to starting at my blank text editor.

Then our intern [4] overhead me talking to Justin (the designer) about my quandary. She recommended one that she’d tried, and her recommendation was purely on the quality of the tutorial!

Which this was the first one [5] that really explained how it worked, what it was for, and gave me an easy entrance to start doing stuff. Yes, of course the tutorial was a to-do list. But I was suddenly up and running, thinking about what I wanted my app to be doing. And with just a few hours of work I had something I liked, and that I enjoyed working on.

Which is the point, really.

I’ve had two other projects over the last few months: new projects, smallish projects, and projects where I’m scratching my own itch while learning something new. A photo gallery site, where I’m discovering the magic that is flexbox and re-exercising my design muscles. And a tool for Dungeons and Dragons games that I can share with my friends, while also learning some advanced Drupal data management techniques. [6]

Both of them have been fun to goof around with. I’ve learned some things I needed and some other things that are just interesting to know. They’re both related to things I want to do that aren’t really about the web itself or my day-to-day work.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a generalist by nature. What I’ve rediscovered with these projects is that there’s a lot of fun as a generalist to be had making hobby projects for the web. If you’ve been a web professional for a while, and if you have the time, try carving out a bit of it for something new and not terribly serious. You too may be able to rediscover a little bit of that fun.


  1. A 2012 Mitsubishi M-iEV, bought used with VERY low miles. The range is listed as 62mi/100km, and it looks like it gets about that, depending on how you drive it. I adore it!
  2. WordPress for the blog. Cascade Server is our current CMS; Drupal is our future CMS. For me, fiddly bits = authentication, writing to a database, reading from a database, sanitizing data. YMMV.
  3. I like Drupal a lot. Like, super a lot. OTOH, it’s not for everyone or for everything.
  4. She’s isn’t really an intern, but instead a “fellow”, but it sounds weird to call her that. Also, enjoy this Vine I made of her final project from her class this summer!
  5. Meteor, FWIW. I actually don’t think it’s important which one, only that it clicked for me.
  6. None of these projects are publicly available yet, and the car tracker may never be.

Thank you to the D&D&Drupal Birds of a Feather at DrupalCon for ideas for my D&D project; to Chad for introducing me to D&D and being my co-conspirator; to Justin McDowell for initiating me into the MAGIC! world of flexbox; to Naomi for the intro to Meteor; and to Justin (again!) and Anne Gibson for reviewing this piece.

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